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Polis Report

IOU Central

By Will Harper

While perusing the state's catalog of unclaimed property at the Sunnyvale Public Library, busy­body South Bay resident James Downer discovered $119 belonging to none other than, you guessed it: the Sunnyvale Public Library. In fact, the $119 lay unclaimed for nearly 20 years.

As it turns out, the library is one of about five million names listed in the state's unclaimed property account, which is holding no less than $2 billion in assets, waiting to be claimed. Money goes into the holding account when, for example, someone moves and never collects a rental deposit, a stock dividend or interest from a forgotten savings account. State law requires a financial institution to make a "reasonable" effort--which consists of mailing a single letter to the last known address of the person or company owed--to find the rightful property owner within three years. After that the money is relinquished to the state, which keeps it until it's claimed, which, more often than not, is never. About 450,000 accounts worth $250 million get turned over to the state each year--of that, about $80 million is returned.

But Downer wondered: How could anyone not find the Sunnyvale Public Library, which has been at its present location since 1960? Officials aren't exactly sure. A representative from the state controller's office says it's not uncommon to find unclaimed assets belonging to all kinds of entities including public ones. (The Sunnyvale School District has $335 that's been waiting to be claimed for 22 years, records show.) The state, by the way, has no obligation to look for property owners. Treasure-hunters and city bureaucrats instead must pore over unclaimed account inventories kept on microfiche at their local public library or call the controller's toll-free hotline at (800) 992-4647.

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From the January 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro

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